June 18, 2017

No child’s play: Simon Says Give Worcester chapter packs a serious charitable punch

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Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Simon Says Give, which is run locally by 14-year-old Simon Eber, donated backpacks full of back-to-school supplies to students at Woodland Academy and Columbus Park.

Simon Eber, 14, is the kid president of the Worcester chapter of Simon Says Give, which provides students in need with birthday celebrations and school supplies.

“Simon Says Give in Minnesota started the High Five for Supplies campaign, and when I learned more about it, I realized that it would be a great way to help other children in Worcester Public Schools,” Eber said.

“The program was intended for the younger elementary school students, but I thought it would be great to give this opportunity to sixth graders to help with their transition to middle school.”

After starting the Worcester chapter of the Minnesota-based nonprofit earlier this year, Eber has donated more than 168 backpacks filled with school supplies and celebrated two birthdays since April.

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Some 120 of those backpacks were delivered to Woodland Street Academy and Columbus Park last Thursday and presented to the graduating sixth-grade classes.

Each backpack, filled with back-to-school supplies including calculators and binders, were given to students, many of whom are facing financial hardship. About 70 percent of the students attending Woodland Academy and Columbus Park are considered “economically disadvantaged” according to state education statistics (district-wide the number is 57 percent).

“I think that every child deserves to have the items needed to be productive in school and this is my way of making sure that happens,” said Eber, an eighth-grader at Forest Grove Middle School. “After seeing many kids struggle to get back-to-school supplies, I knew bringing this organization to Worcester would make a difference.”

Launched in 2012 and with branches in Minnesota, South Dakota and Massachusetts, the organization has donated more than 10,000 backpacks nationwide.

“I am inspired to help other people,” Eber said. “I do not know what I want to do in the future for a career, but I know I want it to be related to helping others.”

Watch: Eber seeks out donations at Sweet

Mandi Simon, 13, founder of the Simon Says Give organization, and Nolan Fleming, 11, kid president of the South Dakota chapter, joined Eber in presenting the Woodland Academy and Columbus Park students with backpacks.

With more than 70 students in attendance for the presentation at Woodland Academy, the feeling of inspiration was contagious. Many of the students questioned how they could become involved with the organization.

“I admire what they are doing,” said one student. “Simon Says Give is helping me and my friends get ready for the new school year and I want to learn more about how I can do the same.”

“I started by donating my own money,” Eber said.

After realizing the challenges of establishing and registering a nonprofit in Massachusetts, Eber knew he had to be the initial spark of change.

“I donated my bar mitzvah money and asked my friends and family to do the same on my behalf. We started a crowdfunding page on Crowdrise.com and asked family and friends to donate money instead of giving me presents. Our goal was $1,500 and we raised $2,345.”

During the summer, Eber plans to continue his fundraising efforts through events at Staples and other local businesses.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Simon Eber, center, poses with fellow leaders Mandi Simon, left, and Nolan Fleming.

“Dave Fisher, a local businessman, overheard Simon pitching the manager at Staples to host a supply drive and he approached Simon and said he would donate money to his cause,” said Jim Eber, Simon’s dad and “adult leader” for the Simon Says Give Worcester chapter.

“For next year, we have offers from Wine Vine to host a wine tasting fundraiser, ‘Coach Paul’ to do a training fundraiser for kids, St. Mary’s to become more involved and the assistant chaplain at Holy Cross has reached out to make the connection. This is just the beginning for Simon’s organization.”

This year, Eber’s chapter donated backpacks to three Worcester Public Schools: Woodland Academy, Claremont Academy and Midland Street School.

“We are working to add three more schools for next year and continue growing our program,” Eber said. “This is a ‘kids celebrating kids’ kind of organization and we encourage other students as volunteers or new chapter starters, to help us with our nationwide mission.”

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